Social Media: All About the Individual …?

Social Media: All About the Individual …?

(I feel fortunate that writer, blogger and coach Sheryl Sisk Schelin agreed to provide a guest post this week. Don’t miss her ‘How to build a better business blog in one month’  on her own blog The Inspired Solo She teaches it one day at a time…perfect for busy entrepreneurs!)

The use of tools and sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others has given rise to an interesting conundrum for those who use such tools for business or professional purposes: “How do I seem like a real person without giving away entirely too much information?”

That’s the right question to ask, in my book. It recognizes the fine line between appearing real, warm, approachable — i.e., a human being — and being entirely too confessional and without filters of any kind. Of course, the reality is that there’s a huge expanse of territory in between those two extremes — and that’s the territory that often trips us up.

Social media is — or should be — all about the connections between individuals. Even the largest corporation has a human face at its helm, and can only act or be acted upon by its people. My experience as a blog and social media coach/consultant has been in the realm of solo service professionals — folks like lawyers, real estate agents, financial planners, and consultants of all stripes who launch their own solo shops. I’ve found it’s this group of people who struggle most with this question.

It makes sense if you think about it: solos are, I believe (and I think anecdotal experience backs me up on this point) more proactive, more flexible, more forward-thinking and -acting than most larger firms can possibly be. “If Twitter is the latest greatest thing to hit internet marketing since the blog,” the solo muses, “then let’s give it a whirl.” Within an hour, she’s up and tweeting. Months later, the mid-sized law firm is still debating the point, and the large law firm hasn’t even gotten its marketing committee’s report yet.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a big corporation flunkie or a struggling solo, or anything in between, however. Social media is all about the person. But how do you present yourself as a real person — one worthy of interaction, respect, and — dare we say it? — trust, without crossing the line into unprofessionalism or, worse, blabbermouth/”me-me-me” territory?

Five Tips to Improve Your Business Use of Social Media

Walking that line can be done, and must be done, if you want to reap the benefits of social media. (Those benefits are powerful, by the way. Just don’t expect them to pay off immediately in the traditional marketing concepts of “ROI” or “return on investment”; Bonnie makes this point very effectively in her post on this blog “Don’t use old methods to measure new media”, which is absolutely bookmark-worthy.)

Tip #1: To Be Interesting, Be InterestED

This one’s what I call “a kindergarten tip” because it seems like we might have all heard it during Story Time, doesn’t it? Tip #1 is basically this: if you want people to be interested in what you have to say — if, that is, you want to form a relationship — you have to express an interest in them and what they have to say first.

Think about your last networking event. Chances are, you ran into Him — no, not the Almighty. The character we all inevitably meet at these soirees — the guy (and I don’t mean to be sexist but it does always seem to be a guy, doesn’t it?) whose sole goal seems to be collecting as many business cards as he can without once expressing an interest in anything or anyone other than himself.

If you haven’t run into this person, then consider yourself lucky. But if you have, do you recall what your impression was of him? How eager were you to do business with this person, or to send any of your friends to him as potential customers? The simple fact is that, all things being relatively equal, we do business with people we like.

And who do we like? Why, the people who have the incredible good taste to like us, of course.

Tip #2: Don’t Go Overboard With the Compliments or Queries

As with any good “rule,” Tip #1 can be taken too far. When you sound insincere, or your inquiries into the other person’s life or business seem a little too zealous or far-reaching, things can backfire in a hurry. The best relationships and the best discussions involve a relatively equal flow of give and take. That’s true in the coffee shop and it’s also true online, with any social media platform.

So, express interest. Ask open-ended questions. But make sure you get a little “take” with your “give,” and never pry past the point of politeness.

Tip #3: Offer Something of Value Without Expecting Anything in Return

Another “kindergarten” tip. This is how relationships are made. You express interest in the other person. You find out his/her needs and wants and likes/dislikes. You give a little, you take a little, and then? Then you offer something of value, out of the blue and with no expectation of a return “present.”

What’s “of value”? That depends entirely on the context of the conversation and the individuals involved. Some possibilities:

  • An introduction to someone who can help the other person with a particular project
  • A book review of a title that might help the other person with a particular problem
  • A blog post from someone that might help the other person … you get the point
  • A web clipping
  • A newspaper article
  • A coupon
  • An ad for some event or organizational gathering

The “something of value” can be small or large, but be cautious of making too large a gift right off the bat. People have a funny way of getting suspicious of others’ motives at a certain level of generosity. Unfortunate, but a true aspect of human nature. So don’t go overboard — keep it small if possible.

The bottom line with Tip #3 is to make it relevant to the other person, to one of her expressed needs, wants, or desires. It doesn’t have to be work-related necessarily — maybe that coupon is for 20% off the first scuba-diving lesson, something she’s mentioned she always wanted to try! The point is to demonstrate that (A) you were listening and (B) you cared enough to do something with no discernible measure of return for yourself.

Tip #4: Think of Personal Information As a Spice — NOT the Main Course

When it comes to sharing personal information, most people feel very uncomfortable with the prospect of sharing too much. But it’s just as much a problem to appear not to share enough of yourself with others. Where do you draw the line?

First things first: always protect your children’s and other family members’ privacy, voraciously. Now, some mommy bloggers will disagree with me on this point, but my belief is this: I signed up for Twitter. They didn’t. Their stories are not entirely mine to tell. But more to the point: you just don’t know what kind of bad actors might be observing your Twitter timeline. Be cautious when it comes to information that can be used to identify your minor child.

Also, be cautious about sharing information about your spouse or significant other. Career blogger Penelope Trunk found this out the hard way (although I sort of doubt she perceives a problem with it, even after the fact) when she blogged about her marital problems, one of which appeared to be that her husband didn’t appreciate his wife sharing their marital problems on the web with complete strangers. I think I have to agree with him on that point. Certainly, as a reader, I don’t want to hear about someone’s marital troubles, especially when it makes me feel like a voyeur and especially when it’s got nothing whatsoever to do with the topic of the blog.

Within those guidelines, however, feel free to spice up blog posts, tweets, and other information streams with cute tales of kiddy antics (as long as they’re short and truly entertaining, not just “entertaining to Mom and Dad”) and vacation references (again, short and entertaining). Just don’t make such information into its own blog post, or dwell too much on it. Ten tweets in a row sharing TwitPics of your trip to Cancun? Probably too much. One will do nicely.

Tip #5: Never Be Afraid of Appearing Less Than Perfect

If I know anything about social media, I know this: the social media crowd can spot a phony at ten characters. Never pretend you know something you don’t, and never claim a level of expertise you don’t currently possess. Those ought to be no-brainers, but judging from some of the tweets I see on a daily basis, it obviously bears repeating.

But more than outright misrepresentations of your expertise, don’t be nervous about saying “I don’t know — I’d need to look that up” instead of blathering on and hoping the questioner forgot the original query. What’s that old saw? Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt?

Well, I wouldn’t go that far. Open your mouth — and say “I don’t know.” Or admit “I’m just learning about this stuff myself.” Or even “I’m not really good at __________.” I’m not advocating false modesty here — just being real with yourself and your “audience.”

Conclusion: Be Yourself At Your Best

Perhaps all these tips can be summed up into one pithy maxim: Be yourself at your best. Social media is all about personal interaction — just be careful to be personable, without being overly personal, and you’ll soon find yourself with lots of new relationships that can help your business succeed wildly.


Sheryl Sisk Schelin is a business coach for solo lawyers and other service professionals who want to launch and run their own practices. She specializes in blog and social media marketing. Follow Sheryl on Twitter and read her blog, The Inspired Solo